ANCHORAGE, ALASKA - A small airplane that crashed in Alaska’s Denali National Park, killing five people on board, will remain on a near-vertical mountainside because of the substantial risk to recovery crews, officials said Friday.
The National Park Service announced it will end efforts to recover bodies and wreckage of the K2 Aviation airplane that crashed Aug. 4 near the summit of Thunder Mountain.
“The decision has been made that it is not feasible to recover the bodies or aircraft,” spokeswoman Katherine Belcher said by email.
The airplane carried pilot Craig Layson and four passengers from Poland on what was supposed to be a one-hour tour that included Kahiltna Glacier, where most people begin their attempts to climb Denali, North America’s highest peak. The airplane took off from nearby Talkeetna.
The park service has not released the names of the passengers at the request of the consulate general of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles.
Thunder Mountain is about 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) southwest of the summit of Denali.
Layson made a call to his office immediately after the crash and about an hour afterward, reporting injured passengers.
Weather delays rescue
Low clouds and bad weather hampered rescue and recovery operations since the night of the crash.
A park service ranger dangling from a line below a helicopter finally reached the crash site Tuesday. He confirmed the deaths of four people inside the de Havilland Beaver but had to be pulled out after five minutes because clouds were moving in.
A second park service ranger was hauled in Friday and spent 59 minutes at the site. The ranger confirmed the fifth person dead in the wreckage, Belcher said.
Because of the danger, the ranger remained attached to the rope connected to the hovering helicopter at all times.
Thunder Mountain is a roughly mile-long, knife-edge ridge above Kahiltna Glacier.
The airplane is angled upward in snow on the steep mountainside in a depression at the top of a vertical crevasse.
Chris Erickson, the first mountain ranger to visit the wreckage, said Wednesday the airplane may be on an overhang of snow not underlain by rock and only loosely attached to the mountain.
The crevasse is a dangerous and potentially fatal terrain trap if there’s even a small avalanche, the park service said in a statement.
The aircraft is broken in half behind the wing, and the tail section of the fuselage is pulling down the aircraft toward Kahiltna Glacier 3,500 feet (1067 meters) below.
More than 2.5 feet (0.76 meters) of new snow has fallen at the crash site, loading a nearly 45-degree slope just above the aircraft, the park service said.
Recovery crews would face other hazards such as exposure and protruding pieces of jagged metal.
“Recovering the bodies and the aircraft under the current conditions would require an extremely complex and unfeasible recovery operation,” the park service said in its announcement.